KURDISTAN REGION-IRAN BORDER – Following Iran’s decision to close its borders with the Kurdistan Region in late September, some Kurds in Iran who used to work at the official borders have turned to the often dangerous paths of smuggling.
The smugglers, semi-legal cross-border porters known locally as kolbars, climb the mountains on the border, facing the dangers of live fire from the border guards and mine fields.
Some of those interviewed by Rudaw say the border closure pushed them to turn to smuggling.
"It’s been two months that the border has been closed. None of us could have earned 100,000 toman ($28) for his family since then,” a kolbar told Rudaw.
“Those who want to have a source of living, like me, will come to this mountain to work. They come to this place to smuggle goods. This will expose us to being killed, freezing and many other things."
They mostly smuggle alcohol and cigarettes into Iran, items banned under the Islamic laws of the Iranian government. Trading these items in Iran can result in a three-year prison sentence and a $28.00 fine.
Border guards have standing orders to shoot any of these kolbars on sight if they refuse to surrender. About 165 kolbars have been killed in 2017 and 150 injured.
They receive $30 for each box they carry across the border, over a dangerous path where winter temperatures drop below zero.
"I don't know whether or not I can make it across the border or if I will be killed,” another kolbar said.
For those who use horses to smuggle items, the path is even more difficult. They have to cross the border at night because they are an easier target in the daylight
"If there were 500 horses two months ago before the borders closed, it is now possible that there are 1,000. If the people are pushed to go hungry, they are then forced to come to the mountains. People here who lose their goods or whose horses are shot dead are very angry,” said a kolbar who owns a horse.
Out of three official border crossings between the Kurdistan Region and Iran, only one is currently open.